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               Volume 10 |Issue 39 | October 14, 2011 |


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Straight Talk

Are You Listening?


The auditorium was quiet as the lady stood up to talk to us. The door of the large hall opened and everyone turned to look disapprovingly at the latecomers. One thing I have learned over the years is that you never want to show up late for any functions, meetings or talks at your children's school. Unless of course you want to be forever labelled as 'the parents who couldn't be bothered to show up on time'! Thankfully I was already seated and felt a pang of compassion for the parents who had the misfortune of being tardy.

Photo: Zahedul I Khan

My daughter's year group are twelve/thirteen year olds and the talk was about the changes and challenges both parents and children are going to face over the coming months or even years as the girls step from childhood into adolescence. The discussion was not solely about teenage girls but teenagers in general. Currently having two teenagers in the house, of both genders, I felt I had already had a preview of life to come with my third child but it is always nice to know that there are other parents out there who are going through the same experiences and situations as you and that you share an empathic bond with them.

Much of what the counsellor said to us was based on pure common sense and things we all knew, be it from experiences with other children or drawn from our own teenage years. However, one thing she explained to us that stuck in my mind is that growing up can be a very scary experience. At that age kids go through so many changes such as physical, emotional and hormonal, that it can be extremely overwhelming for them. Instead of being frustrated at their moodiness, belligerence or imaginary angst, it is a time for us to be patient and understanding — easier said than done as I am sure most parents will agree with.

One lesson I have learned from having two teenagers is that you really need to choose your battles carefully. Most adolescents like to push boundaries and will test the limits and patience of their parents. In some cases you just have to let it go and allow your kids a bit of leeway and in some other instances you have to put your foot down and say 'no'. Extended bedtimes, dyed hair and piercings (within reason) are far less worrying than smoking and drinking and other sorts of self destructive behaviour from an early age. If all their transgressions bring forth the same level of anger and frustration from us, they never learn the distinction for themselves. Obviously I say this from the perspective of a parent and not a professional counsellor or psychologist.

A few months ago the newspapers reported the death of a young fourteen year old girl who not only lived locally to us but also went to a nearby school. What I found most heartbreaking was that she had committed suicide. From what I could gather, Emily Weiss said to be a very talented and popular student and no one had any inkling that she had become depressed prior to her exams. She was found unconscious in the garden of her home after hanging herself from a tree. According to the papers a friend had said that, “The night before her death, Emily had sent text and Facebook messages wishing classmates good luck in their exams.” She then changed her Facebook status to “Cellar Door”, the title of a song about suicide by American 'emo' rock band 'Escape the Fate'. I could only imagine what her family must have been going through and it terrified me. We may never know what caused Emily Weiss to end her life or why this tragedy befell this family but it does emphasise that kids these days are subjected to all types of pressures, some of which we impose on them and others that we may not even be aware of.

We often put a huge amount of emphasis on our offspring to do well in their studies which within moderation is a reasonable expectation but many parents take it to the extreme and allow their children to believe that good results take priority over that of the wellbeing of their child. Without realising, this can put a burden of responsibility on them that they feel they cannot fulfil. I have heard too many stories of children taking their lives just because they could not live up to the expectations of their parents in an exam or test.

I think sometimes we believe that as a mother or father we are attuned to everything our children are feeling but this would be a misconception as at other times we feel that we have no idea what might be going through their minds. Generally teenagers are not the most communicative of people, but if and when they do talk to us we have to listen and not simply dismiss their feelings of pain, sadness, rejection or anger as melodramatic or baseless. As we know during adolescence every emotion that we have is magnified and exaggerated. With all the hormones raging within them, it can be hard to see things with a clear and calm head.

For example, nowadays bullying does not confine itself within the playground or classroom but extends to the internet and every slight or humiliation can be devastating. However, they may find it hard to talk about it to anyone especially a grown-up and therefore one has to be vigilant about cyber bullying or tell tale signs of any kind of bullying.

Another example is the emergence of the size zero models whose images we see in almost every magazine, billboard or advertisement and sends the message that being thin is a sign of beauty. This can be hugely damaging to the self esteem of an already vulnerable teenager and can at times contribute to eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia.

In these circumstances it is necessary to behave with sensitivity and understanding and not act like a bull in a china shop.

As the counsellor also mentioned, during our youth we fall in and out of love and each time it can take you to dizzying heights or the depths of despair and a breakup can be shattering. Once again with the experience and hindsight as an adult it is very easy to be dismissive of these emotions but it would do well for us to think back to when we were in similar situations ourselves.

Teenage suicides are a matter of growing concern and although it may be a topic that many find distasteful and upsetting, it is one that we have to be aware of and take seriously. In all the above cases, kids can feel as if everything is an 'end of the world' scenario and we have to show our children that we are there for them no matter what and there is always a solution to every problem.



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